Cake Mix Tip

Pumpkins are magical. You can hide them in cakes.

Since baking is on my mind today, I thought I’d pass along a tip I learned in a cooking class offered by the Ohio State Agricultural Extension. You can replace the eggs and oil with a 15 ounce can of plain pumpkin when baking a cake from a boxed mix.

Pumpkin itself has a subtle flavor that gets lost in a cake. I’ve baked chocolate cake with pumpkin puree, and the cake tasted just as chocolatey as it usually does.

This is an easy way to cut some calories from dessert while adding a vegetable.

Coda to October Cookie Surprise

I imagine this horse could be dreaming of leading a stampede for snack cakes. Actually I took this picture at a custom car show last year. It’s the hood of a Mustang with stunning metal flake paint. The clouds are a reflection.

Since we made snack cakes by accident yesterday, I thought I would tell you that there is a simple, reliable formula for those at Buns in My Oven. The recipe is called Chocolate Pudding Dump Cake, but it can be twisted into several different flavor variations.

The formula is super simple: combine a box of cake mix, a small box of dry pudding mix and a bag of chocolate chips (any flavor baking chip works). Mix with a cup and a half of milk, pour in a greased 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

The end product of this formula is surprisingly good. It has a fun, spongy density and tender crumb. It’s so sweet it needs no icing.

I’ve made a red velvet version by using red velvet cake mix, vanilla pudding mix and white baking chips. Using yellow cake mix, vanilla pudding and semisweet chips makes chocolate chip snack bars.

This a fun recipe for beginning bakers. I wish I had thought of these yesterday instead of baking weird snack cakes by accident.

Easy Big Batch Chili


Cooking played a vital role in my recovery from depression. As I tried more recipes and created some of my own, I felt mastery despite that I was and am not a fantastic cook. Even when I felt like my life was falling apart outside the kitchen, I knew I could succeed at planning a meal with limited resources that people might even like.

It all started with chili. Here was a one dish meal that was challenging to screw up. I experimented with the recipe my mom taught me in my teens. After a few attempts that were too fiery, I arrived at basic template for chili that could be embellished or scaled to suit the occasion.

After I had been stuck in moderate depression for years, my mom suggested that I try making chili for a 100 for my brother’s wedding reception. This was to be an informal gathering for family who hadn’t been able to attend my brother’s out of state wedding. For the first time in months, I did not agonize over choices or planning. I did not dread failure. I just did it. About half of people who tried my chili at that reception liked it enough to ask who made it. This mattered more to me than they could ever know.

I learned that if I acted without worrying whether anyone would like the result, my chances of a positive outcome were greater.

This evening I made my chili once again. It continues to evolve. This version can serve 10-12 people. I freeze cooled leftovers in sandwich bags. This chili keeps well frozen for two months.

Choosing no salt added versions of the canned tomatoes can help control the sodium level. If lower sodium plain beans are used, I recommend adding more chili powder to taste.

Big Batch Chili

  • 3 lbs ground beef
  • 2-16 oz cans mild or medium chili beans, undrained
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained (a 10 oz can is fine, too)
  • 29 oz can crushed tomatoes (fire roasted crushed tomatoes work great, too)
  • 3 T plus one teaspoon chili powder, divided
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 beef boullion cube (optional but tasty)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 t Sriracha sauce

Brown the ground beef with 1 teaspoon chili powder in Dutch oven.  Drain well. Add beans, tomatoes, 3 T chili powder, pepper, water and Sriracha sauce. Bring the chili to a simmer and add the boullion cube if using. Simmer f0r at least 30 minutes. Enjoy.

Big Daddy Meatloaf

My local independent grocer runs specials on freshly ground beef, but these sale packages average three pounds. Big Daddy Meatloaf was born from my wish to use all three of those pounds in a single recipe. Chili and spaghetti sauce can easily be adapted to a three pound range, but I wanted another simple recipe that would make a large batch that yields easy leftovers from the fridge or freezer.

As an aside, I will tell you that every time I have tried to type meatloaf in this post I have accidently keyed in meatload. I suppose this recipe does make a load of meatloaf.

Big Daddy Meatloaf

  • 3 lbs 80/20 ground beef
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1.5 oz packet meatloaf seasoning
  • 2 oz packet onion soup mix
  • 3/4 cup ketchup, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Combine oats, milk, egg, seasonings and 1/4 cup ketchup in large mixing bowl. Add ground beef to bowl and gently fold into other ingredients, as if you were slowly kneading bread. Mix just until combined; overmixing will result in a tough, dense loaf.

Empty meat mixture onto cookie sheet. Shape into large oval that is 2″ thick. Cover the top with the remaining 1/2 cup ketchup.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the center of the loaf reaches a temperature of 160 degrees.

Corn and mashed potatoes are good dishes for this meatloaf. I think the meatloaf is rich enough that no gravy is needed for the mashed potatoes.

This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Chrystal at The Smallwood Parsonage.


Sausage, Greens and Beans Dinner


If my mother-in-law Fannie were alive today, she’d be 101 years old. She learned to cook in the wilds of Magoffin County, Kentucky, with no electricity or running water. She was a master cook who could make hog’s head as tasty as fried chicken. Many of her recipes are lost, as she hadn’t relied on written recipes for years before her passing. I think of the following recipe as a fast way to bring a touch of Kentucky to our dinner table in Ohio, and I hope that Fannie would approve of its flavor if not its convenience.

As with most of my recipes, there is flexibility in this one for changes. I’ve tried this recipe with kale or spinach instead of collard greens, with good results. Different beans may be used as well. Feel free to lower the salt content through using reduced sodium broth, etc.

Serves 4

  • 1 lb bulk breakfast sausage, such as Bob Evans Original Roll Sausage
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 lb collard greens, chopped, or 2 14 oz cans collard greens, drained
  • 1 15.5 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 T white vinegar

Crumble and brown sausage in a dutch oven. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. If using fresh greens, gradually add greens to pot and stir gently until wilted. If relying on canned greens instead, just stir them into the pot. Next add the beans, garlic powder and oregano. Simmer covered until the greens are tender and add vinegar.

Serve with cornbread.

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